Prison Birth Project (PBP) supports, encourages, and trains currently and formerly incarcerated mothers and trans* parents to become community leaders within a reproductive justice framework. The need is dire. In women’s prisons, 85% are mothers, and 25% were pregnant on arrest or gave birth in the previous year. The criminal justice system and media demonize people in conflict with the law to justify and prevent outcry against denials of basic human rights, such as adequate pregnancy healthcare, nutrition, and reproductive choice.
The US uses incarceration to oppress low income people of color: over half in women’s prisons lacked full time jobs upon arrest and nearly 1/3 were on welfare. In 2010, black women were 2.8 and Hispanic women 1.6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Plus, most in women’s prisons have pasts of sexual abuse (at least 57%), mental health issues (nearly ¾), and substance use (60%). Trauma, oppression, and stigma thwart people with incarceration experience from speaking out to demand change.
In 2008, a new women’s jail opened in our region. Two new mothers and community activists with personal experience feeling the deep impacts of the carceral system founded PBP with fellow reproductive justice activists. In the last seven years, organizational meetings have evolved from visioning sessions to annual planning, leadership has grown to include more reproductive justice organizers with diverse lived experiences, and we have seen our community embrace our work and understand the need.
In the jail today, we provide trauma-informed doula care, childbirth classes, family-centered advocacy, a peer support group, and a vehicle for member-led organizing. We also offer a group outside the wall for previously incarcerated women & trans* parents. PBP groups help members to remember core strength, heal as individuals and collectively, and create societal change. Members explore reproductive justice and the history of incarceration, contextualize each of our personal stories within the overall power structure, and learn organizing methods to change the system itself.
In 2014, PBP members spearheaded successful efforts to pass a new MA law that ends shackling during pregnancy/labor/postpartum, sets standards for pregnancy healthcare and nutrition in jails/prisons, and more. Now we are working to call the state out for its many infringements, and push for full adherence to the new law. PBP members are also educating the public to build a world in which people in conflict with the law are understood to be oppressed, facing life crisis, and deserving of compassion and respect.
When I got out of prison, I was able to share this horrible experience of being restrained while in labor, and in one year I was able to help to pass a law with that experience… The IMPACT that this has, not on just myself but so many other women who will end up in prison and pregnant, is so amazing. The fact that pregnant women have the RIGHT to be FREE from restraint…and that MY story, my time, energy and activism helped pass this LAW in a major way!!! The joy and relief that I feel from this is wonderful… I was able to frame my story in a way that felt good for ME. That I didn’t compromise when reporters probed and treated me like I was guilty or bad or felt they judged me. It doesn’t matter what “ I” did , to be in prison. What I was asked to apologize for, or anything. We all make mistakes in our lives. In the end I STILL deserve to birth MY baby FREELY and with LOVE.
~ Kenzie, PBP Member, Co-Leader of our statewide anti-shackling coalition, in her speech upon accepting PBP’s annual Resiliency Award at our annual event in fall, 2014; her speech brought over 200 people to our feet in a standing ovation.
“They come frequently and make me feel real”
“I can be a woman and not an inmate”
“[Can we meet] twice a week?”
~ PBP program evaluation respondents ~